General NT


I noticed over the weekend that Robert Orlando’s much discussed 89-minute documentary Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe is now available for purchase on DVD or download. I’ve now watched it and was impressed by the number and names of the scholars interviewd in the film. I also enjoyed that the documentary sought both to persuade the viewer of a particular political function for the Jerusalem collection while also providing a decent (if not one-sided) summary of Paul’s life and ministry in the process, which gave the historical survey lying at the center of the film a sense of unity from beginning to end. The film certainly has an agenda to push, and I myself was not convinced, as the film suggests, that the Jerusalem collection was a failure, in that James ultimately rejected the Gentiles’ money and Paul’s Gentile mission. Unlike the director and the interviewees given prominence toward the end of the film (where Wright, Witherington, and Hurtado seems to disappear), I find no reason to believe that James and the Jerusalem believers conspired against Paul and somehow actively or passively contributed in his beating and arrest in Acts 21. Luke explains that Paul was welcomed gladly by James and company when Paul arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26) and I find no reason to doubt the veracity of that account. Whatever the case, Orlando’s film is worth watching and reflecting upon critically critically. This could be a good documentary to show students of early Christianity, though afterward one should given plenty of time for class interaction and for fielding questions.

It is the last day of class today for my M/W course on Pauline Epistles II (covering only Galatians-Colossians and Philemon). I’ve structured the class to end with Ephesians (since it is probably the latest of these epistles), so today we’ve covering Eph 6:10-24. To get a handle of the passage I’ve been reading through Tim Gombis’ The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (InterVarsity, 2010)–also because my students have a book review of it due today–and I was struck by Gombis’ insightful comments on how believers are to participate in divine/spiritual warfare. I’ve always been puzzled about how to apply Paul’s instructions about the “armor of God” in Eph 6:10-18 in the resistance of cosmic spiritual powers. Gombis’ take on the entire subject is illuminating.

First, Gombis suggests that while these powers are real and not to be demythologized, it is important that we focus not on their identities, but on their effects, i.e., “social practices, systems of injustice and oppression and relational dynamics that allow for exploitation and prevent human flourishing” (p. 50). (This looks similar to the approach of Robert Ewuisie Moses in his recent Practices of Power: Revisiting the Principalities and Powers in the Pauline Letters [Fortress, 2014], though I have not yet read it). As we strap on the armor of God, therefore, we are not to engage these spiritual beings head on in any way, if for no other reason than because they have already been defeated by Christ himself (Eph 1:20-23; Col 3:15). Instead, the church’s engagement of the powers involves redeeming and transforming their social and structural effects.

[T]he church wages its warfare in a subversive manner–it is not at all what we might expect. If Paul’s rhetorical summary appears in Ephesians 6:10-18, then his instructions for performing divine warfare are contained in the ethical section of the letter, Ephesians 4:17-6:9. Here, we will see that the church engages in warfare against the powers in ways that defy and overturn our expectations. Our warfare involves resisting the corrupting influences of the powers. The same pressures that produce practices of exploitation, injustice and oppression in the world are at work on church communities. The church’s warfare involves resisting such influences, transforming corrupted practices and replacing them with life-giving patterns of conduct that draw on and radiate the resurrection power of God. Our warfare, then, involves purposefully growing into communities that become more faithful corporate performances of Jesus on earth. Far from being a frightening prospect, this is good news for the world. (pp. 159-60)

I find Gombis’ understanding quite sensible. For one, it helpfully connects Ephesians 6 to the previous two chapters of the letter in a way that I had not previously considered; thus, rhetorically, the end of the letter hangs together quite naturally. Secondly, this reading makes sense of Paul’s largely virtue-driven system of spiritual defense: by embodying “truth,” “righteousness,” “peace,” and “faith,” believers will be transformed and thereby resist evil powers as well as influence their communities. Now, “the gospel,” “salvation,” “the word of God,” and “prayer” are not virtues to be embodied in the same way as those just mentioned, but one can easily see how these can also function as means of individual and community transformation, both inside and outside the church.

Gombis’ book is a good read. I’m looking forward to hearing how my students respond to it!

Various online news groups are reporting that the scientific studies conducted on the fragment of the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife have shown it NOT to be a forgery! See, e.g., the article in he Boston Globe. See also the official Harvard Divinity School site. Can’t wait to hear the reactions of Watson, Gathercole, Goodacre, and others.

Since I regularly teach book studies in the Pauline epistles to students who have no knowledge of Greek, and I generally dislike assigning lengthy commentaries as textbooks, I am always on the look out for non-/less-technical, affordable academic resources focusing on individual NT books. A good example of what I mean is Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians (Abingdon, 1998). Although Longenecker’s volume provides a focused reading of Paul’s letter and engages various scholarly debates, the book itself is intended to be accessible to non-specialists and does a fine job of showing how one scholar interprets all/most of Galatians. Additional examples include Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (InterVarsity Press, 2010), and Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (InterVarsity, 2004). Similar, though in certain ways quite different, is Joseph Hellerman’s Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today (Kregel, 2013), which, dispite its title, is really a distillation and more practically-oriented version of his SNTS volume Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum (CUP, 2005).

I’m seeking to identify additional titles belonging to this genre. If readers know of similar resources, please do share in the comments. Thanks!

The very latest issue of New Testament Studies is now available. It features the work of several Durham alumni (including me, Jonathan Linebaugh, Helen Bond, and Daniel Frayer-Griggs) and looks to be quite well rounded, with contributions focusing on NT history, exegesis, historical theology, onomastics, gnostic gospels, and textual criticism. My piece (“Sold under Sin: Echoes of Exile in Romans 7.14-25″) takes the baton from Marc Philonenko and others in arguing that Paul was influenced by his reading of Isaiah 49-50 in the latter part of Romans 7. Here is the abstract:

Although Romans has been heavily mined for scriptural allusions in recent years, the influence of Isaiah 49-50 on Rom 7.14-25 has gone largely unnoticed. Building on Philonenko’s work on the allusion to Isa 50.1 in the phrase ‘sold under sin’ (Rom 7.14), this study seeks to identify additional echoes from LXX Isa 49.24-50.2 in Rom 7.14-25 and to interpret Paul’s discourse in the light of the sin-exile-restoration paradigm implied by both the source’s original context and Paul’s own strategic use of Isaiah in his portrayal of the plight of ἐγώ. The identification of these echoes, it is suggested, aids in interpreting the story of ἐγώ by connecting the allusions to Israel’s early history in Rom 7.7-13 to images of the nation’s later history in 7.14-25, thus showing the speaker’s plight under sin to be analogous to Israel’s own experiences of deception, death, and exile.

Warren Carter’s Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World (Baker, 2013) is a clear and well-written introduction to issues relevant for understanding early Christianity. The book is structured around seven crucial ‘events’ (using the term loosely at times) that impacted the world of early Christianity. The seven events are:

  1. The Death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE): explores the significance of the spread of Hellenism and compares Alexander with Jesus
  2. The Process of Translating Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (ca. 250 BCE): discusses the tale of the Septuagint and how early Christians read the Scriptures with ‘Jesus-glasses’
  3. The Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple (164 BCE): explains how the Maccabean revolt and the events following it helped form Jewish identity
  4. The Roman Occupation of Judea (63 BCE): describes the rise and impact of Roman rule in Judea and how early Christians responded to Roman rule
  5. The Crucifixion of Jesus (ca. 30 CE): addresses who was crucified in the ancient world and why Jesus was crucifed both historically and theologically
  6. The Writing of the New Testament Texts (ca. 50 — ca. 130 CE): goes over briefly the standard introductory issues, such as authorship and purpose
  7. The Process of ‘Closing’ the New Testament Canon (397 CE): outlines five stages that lead to the canon and then surveys some of the criteria for canonization

Carter explores the historical and social context of these events. His concern is less with individual figures or the event itself. Rather, he is interested in a ‘people’s-history’, so he explores the relevance of these events for the lives of the common folks. He highlights in each chapter the significance of these events for the development of the early Christian community. Spread throughout are pictures and sidebars that briefly explain related issues or develop some point in slightly more detail.

Scholars won’t find anything surprising in Carter’s discussion, although as with any short book like this one would wish for some more explanation at points. At times I thought that Carter presented conclusions as universal givens when there is dispute about the matters. For example, the discussion of the authorship of the disputed Pauline letters was too one-sided for me. Also, each chapter contains a short bibliography, although the lists don’t reflect well ongoing discussions and tend to be one-sided.

Perhaps the most disputed point will be the selection of these seven events. I think Carter is right to highlight these, but I wondered why there was nothing about the resurrection. Arguably the cross is meaningless without the resurrection. The chapter on Christ’s crucifixion needs to be supplemented by discussion of the resurrection for the full significance to come out.

Although Carter’s work is focused primarily on the ancient context, scattered throughout and particularly in the Conclusion are reflections on the relevance of the New Testament for today. I appreciate his concern to bring the ancient context of the New Testament  into connection with its relevance for today. His final words are worth highlighting:

Reading with awareness of the worlds from which these texts emerged and reading in community help readers to have genuine conversation with the texts and with other readers, rather than simply making the texts reflect our prejudices and preferences. Reading in community requires awareness of how readers are interpreting the texts, what values and practices they are promoting, and who is being harmed and benefited by the interpretation. Reading in community requires conversation and accountability. (p.159)

Overall, I like this book and especially the idea of picking seven key events to focus on. I imagine that designing an Introduction to the New Testament class around these events would help students navigate the complexity of the ancient world and early Christianity’s place within it. Also, it would move beyond the typical approach of working book by book through the critical issues. I, though, wouldn’t use the book itself as a core textbook simply because it lacks the necessary detail that I want in an core textbook. But, that being said, I will be recommending it to my students as a starting point to help them get into the context of the New Testament.

Many of you will be as excited as me to see that the latest (July) volume of New Testament Studies is now available. There are nine very interesting articles to view, including several touching on related topics–two on the Lord’s Supper, two on Luke’s use and rhetoric of death, two on Clement’s view of good works, two on patronage/benefaction. Congratulations go especially to my good friend and new colleague Ben Wilson for his short study, “Taking up and Raising, Fixing and Loosing: A Chiastic Wordplay in Acts 2.23b-24.”

A couple of weeks ago I noted that Dale Allison’s James and Karl Donfried’s 1 & 2 Thessalonians ICC volumes were selling at reasonable prices at bookdepository.com. The bad news is that the prices of the volumes have since been raised. The good news is that, on various websites, additional ICC volumes are now listed as available for pre-order. E. Earle Ellis’ posthumous 1 Corinthians is available at a significant discount  (33% off) at Amazon, as is Loveday Alexander’s Hebrews (35% off). This is quite a productive year for the ICC. Does anybody know who has taken over the editorship of the series since Graham Stanton’s death?

Thanks to Nijay Gupta for notifying us of the release, or near release, of two volumes in the prestigious International Critical Commentary series: Dale Allison on the epistle of James (just released), and Karl Donfried on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (to-be released in October). Nijay notes that the Amazon (USA) prices are rather steep. I checked; Amazon offers 14% off Allison and 10% off Donfried. For the bargain shopper, BookDepository.com is selling each for a bit more of a reduction–19% off Allison and 25% off Donfried, with free shipping worldwide. Allison is available for even cheaper through private vendors on Amazon and other sites.

As avid fans of the television series “Friends,” my wife and I try to incorporate clips of the show into our teaching as often as possible (science for her, Bible for me). In class today, I illustrated the Antioch Incident in Galatians 2:11-14 through the following clip (season 4, episode 11):

 

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